The Nezahualcóyotl (Aztec) Aqueduct

and a traditional Mexican wedding fiesta

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner

Santa Catarina del Monte – Estado de México

One Summer in Mexico – Part 19 – July 26, 1970

Despite never having use of bronze, iron or steel tools . . . and minimal use of the wheel . . . the Mexica (Aztecs) developed into some of the most skilled civil engineers in the world over a two century period. They constructed stone masonry aqueducts to carry pure mountain water to over one million people, who lived in the Valley of Mexico. Some of these aqueducts were rebuilt by the Spanish. Others have disappeared. In 1970, the only example of the Mexica water distribution system was located east of the city Texcoco, at the edge of the mountains.

Alicia and I were invited to a traditional wedding fiesta in a village near the surviving aqueduct. This archaeological zone was actually on my “to do” list from the national museum, so we left early enough to explore the structures. They would prove to be very impressive. Unfortunately, Alicia was still very depressed because of being humiliated by her aunt on Thursday afternoon. Several times, she said to me, “I am just stupid little girl, who does not know how to be a woman. Maybe, I should introduce you to some of my friends, who know how to be with a man.” Typical female! She was testing me to see how I really felt about the snafu.

The artesian spring rises from this old volcanic cone then into a basin

Los Baños de Nezahualcóyotl (The Baths of Nezahualcóyotl)

This is the official indigenous name of the remaining section of the Mexica aqueduct system. An alternate name, sometimes used by North American academicians is the Chapultepec Aqueduct.  The INAH, however, only uses the term “Chapultepec” for a Spanish built aqueduct, which still partially survives.  Texcoco is located northeast of the center of Mexico City at what was once the northeast edge of Lake Texcoco. 

Being located mostly on a man-made island,  the streets of Tenochtitlan were only about 4-5 feet above the normal level of Lake Texcoco.  On many occasions the water rose up to street level or above.  The lake’s water was brackish and polluted with human feces and so could not be used for drinking water.  Individual houses dug shallow wells, but this water was only suitable for washing and boiling.

Tenochtitlan – dikes were built to separate brackish water from fresh water.

First aqueduct

In 1418, construction began for an aqueduct to bring fresh water, suitable for cooking and drinking, from Chapultepec Springs to Tenochtitlan.  It was constructed on mud and plant material to create the foundation, which rested on artificial islands that were spread 3 to 4 meters apart. Mounds consisting of mud were constructed on these islands and driven through with a wooden stake for support. The top of each mound had a hollowed-out log trough, lined with compacted clay, plus hollowed out logs were placed in the bottom of the flow path to bridge gaps between the islands.

A wooden plank walkway flanked the aqueduct, making it easily accessible and a method of transportation from the city to the outlying areas. Once the water reached the city, it was delivered to small reservoirs and select households through a network of canals that extended in the four cardinal directions and branched off to individual streets.  The canals collected domestic waste and urine, thus actually polluted the previously clean water.

The crude materials used to construct the first aqueduct could not withstand the forces of nature. Erosion weathered away the compacted clay, and in 1449, heavy rains triggered a flood that destroyed the aqueduct and effectively made Tenochtitlan uninhabitable for weeks.

The second aqueduct was built out of stone.

Second aqueduct

After the destruction of the original aqueduct, the king of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl, ordered the construction of another water system using more durable materials.   This much longer system collected water from an artesian spring on the mountain slopes above the city, plus the spring at Chapultepec Hill.

This aqueduct, which partially remains today, consisted of two mortar lined troughs made of stone masonry. The addition of the second trough allowed for water to be diverted to the second pipe when maintenance had to be performed on the other. The allowed for a continuous supply of fresh water to be delivered to the city. Like the original aqueduct, the second rested on a chain of artificial islands. The pipes were secured to the islands by wood pilings attached to a foundation of sand, lime, and rock. The aqueduct was constructed using wood, carved stone, and compacted soil, with portions made of hollowed logs, allowing canoes to travel underneath.

The baths

These structures are almost in perfect condition today.  Most are carved out of solid rock on the low mountains above the reservoir at the upper end of the aqueduct.  These baths were reserved for the royal family and perhaps the priests.  It is now believed the smaller basins contained heated water, which could either be bathed in or used to raise the temperature of larger basins.

Small Mexican towns rent out their central plaza to affluent families from the city for fiestas. Most of the people at these parties are local folks, who don’t know the newlyweds.

The fiesta at Hacienda Santa Catarina del Monte

This girl wore a sexy outfit, identical in every detail, to the one that Alicia wore to her jinxed, “Becoming a Woman” ritual on Thursday, July 24. It actually looked better on Alicia!

After the older folks began drifting away, the band started playing music for slow dancing.  The younger couples like ourselves began dancing very close to each other . . . but I must admit, not with the grace of those of us Gringos who had spent many a Saturday night at a high school sock hop or a fraternity. Alicia went and got another whiskey and soda then chugged it down.  Her skin became very soft and warm, but she still was not really drunk.  Her conversation was quite lucid.   I wrote in my journal, “It was while dancing with Alicia that night that I first felt truly in love with her.  Our souls melted together as the band sang traditional Mexican love songs.”

As it became time to go,  Alicia began to get sad again.  She looked at the girl wearing the same outfit that she wore on Thursday then sighed.  “See, she is going home to have fun with him.   Poor Alicia only has Speedy Gonzalez the Chihuahua to sleep with.”

I laughed and said, “Well Speedy loves you and your aunt won’t chase him out of the house.” She gave a fake frown, swung her leg as if to kick me and then said,”But his Ricky is even too small for my blouse!” She had a valid point there.


I had to teach Alicia how to polka.  It is mainly danced in northern Mexico.

Typical Mexican waltz – Alicia and I were the only ones, who actually waltzed.  Most of the camposinos just rocked back and forth.

About 1/3 of the songs at dance were of this genre. 


  1. Howdy, Thanks for the article…the Chapultpec water source had me confused in your your earlier articles.

    On Sun, Aug 2, 2020 at 3:22 PM The Americas Revealed wrote:

    > alekmountain posted: ” and a traditional Mexican wedding fiesta by Richard > L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner Santa Catarina del Monte – Estado de > México One Summer in Mexico – Part 19 – July 26, 1970 Despite never having > use of bronze, iron or steel tools ” >


  2. Richard, Yep! there you go again. Why didn’t I think of a Kiva being a water hole in the Southwest for a people who’s name began with the same sound “Ana”? A clear understanding is there used to be more rain events in the Southwest in ancient times. The same perhaps for the people at Caral Peru. Things must have changed in the 13 century and most moved somewhere else? Southeast U.S. perhaps.

    Liked by 1 person

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